Appeal to Belfast High Court abortion ruling to begin

Patrick Corrigan (Amnesty NI) with Sarah Ewart and Jane Christie outside the High Court in Belfast last year. Picture by Matt Bohill

THE head of Amnesty International in Northern Ireland has called for the High Court's ruling that abortion law in the north is against human rights to be upheld.

The Court of Appeal on Monday will begin hearing a plea from the Northern Ireland Executive to overturn November's landmark ruling.

That followed a judicial review case brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission against the north's Department of Justice.

The High Court's landmark ruling potentially paved the way for the relaxation of the current prohibition on women accessing terminations in cases of rape, incest or where there is a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality.

Judge Horner ruled the failure to provide exceptions to the law in certain limited circumstances breached a woman's right to privacy.

Anyone who performs an illegal termination could be jailed for life.

Amnesty's programme director in the north, Patrick Corrigan, an intervenor in the case said the High Court's ruling was "a damning indictment of the Northern Ireland Executive’s failure to prioritise women’s healthcare".

And he said it was not up to the Court of Appeal to "reinforce the right of women and girls to access safe and legal abortion health services in Northern Ireland".

“Northern Ireland’s law on abortion rides roughshod over the rights of women and breaches international human rights standards," he said.

“This week, Amnesty International will be in court in support of the Human Rights Commission to resist the Northern Ireland Executive’s attempt to overturn the High Court decision.

“Instead of litigation, we need legislation from the Northern Ireland Assembly to bring our law into line with international standards."

The issue, never far from the headlines, was thrust once more into the spotlight when Sarah Ewart revealed she was forced to travel to England for a termination in 2013 when she was given a fatal foetal diagnosis at 19 weeks.

“The High Court ruling should have meant that I, and other women like me, would no longer have to go through the pain I experienced, of having to travel to England, away from the care of the doctors and midwife who knew me, to access the healthcare I needed," she said.

"But I, and many women like me, have been failed by our politicians. First, they left me with no option but to go to England for medical care. Then, by their refusal to change the law, they left me with no option but to go to the courts."

Last week, anti-abortion campaigner Bernadette Smyth of Precious Life submitted the group's intervention in the case to the Court of Appeal.

Precious Life said it presented "the dangerous psychological and emotional side effects a mother is likely to suffer after aborting her unborn child with a life-limiting disability and shared moving testimonies of mothers from Every Life Counts. Perinatal hospice care as a positive and practical alternative to the legalisation of abortion was also presented."

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